3 Tips for Earning Student Respect

Let’s be real about this whole teaching gig. If you’re a teacher in the ESL world, chances are you’re probably in the same boat as me, and I’m no different than the thousands of other ESL teachers doing their thing abroad as I write this.

We are generally not at the same level as the native teacher at the school to which we’re assigned. There, I said it.

I want to stress “generally” because there are certain circumstances where an ESL instructor is, indeed, the ruler of his or her classroom kingdom. Universities, international and private schools, and probably some others may call for the ESL instructor to hold total responsibility for their classroom and students. Not to mention the administrative tasks that go along with the role.

However, for the vast majority of others, like JET and EPIK teachers in Japan and Korea, for example, we’re typically accompanied by a native teacher of that school. These native teachers, or co-teachers, are responsible for a greater amount of responsibility. Because of this, they are senior to the ESL teacher assigned to them. This is how the game is played “generally”.

This is both good and bad. Good because, hey, we don’t have to do as much work. Bad because, hey, we don’t hold the same authority as the native teacher.

What this translates to in the minds of the students is a difference in the way they view us as authority figures. They know at the end of the day that the buck doesn’t stop with us.

Therein lies the rub.

This can be a tricky road to navigate because it can be frustrating when trying to control and manage a class. Most students, depending on grade level, will be respectful and just go with the flow of considering you as any other teacher on staff. However, if the tide turns, it spreads quickly among students.

So how do you ensure that students will naturally and willingly consider and treat you, the foreign ESL instructor, with respect?

During my three years here in Korea, I’ve learned that there are three things I must do consistently in order to gain and maintain respect from my students.  Here they are:

  1. Be an adult in the eyes of the students, and remind them of this in your actions and interactions with teachers and students alike.
  2. Keep a structured classroom environment when it’s your time to teach. It’s important to have fun activities and a light-hearted personality while teaching, but the class should always be in order and the way you progress through each class should be highly structured.
  3. Get your co-teacher on your team. Your co-teacher will undoubtedly be your single greatest resource for ensuring students view and treat you with the respect that you expect.



  1. Thank you for the share!


  1. […] I want to stress “generally” because there are certain circumstances where an ESL instructor is, indeed, the ruler of his or her classroom kingdom… Read the rest of the article here. […]

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